The most valuable social media companies in the world tend to operate in a similar way: Apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram rely on adding connections via search and a handful of power users who post regularly to large audiences. Now, a new social media company is betting on the idea that people want a social network that pushes them to interact more offline.
The social media startup Octi launched in the App Store with hopes of getting more people to interact in the real world via augmented reality (AR). The app relies heavily on machine learning to detect when a person is standing in front of another’s iPhone camera. If the person has an Octi account, both can become friends on the social network. Or the Octi member can invite the other to join if they don’t yet have an account.
This intuitive “add friend” feature has been enough to impress a few big-name investors. The company has already raised $12 million from the NFL Players Association, Live Nation, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Bold Capital Partners and Human Ventures. It’s also backed by Adobe’s chief product officer, Scott Belsky, Quibi’s chief product officer and former head of product for Snap, Tom Conrad, and founder of Oscar Health, Joshua Kushner.
“We seeded a test version with 50 kids at a high school . . . by the end of the week, about 1,200 of 2,000 kids had it.”
Octi cofounder and CEO Justin Fuisz
“The special sauce is really that camera technology, that core interaction,” says cofounder and CEO Justin Fuisz.
Octi uses machine learning to detect different distinct parts of a person such as the eyes, nose, hips and elbows whenever they’re in front of a camera used by the app. The software then uses artificial intelligence to deduce whose face you might be scanning within the social network. These complex processes happen all within a matter of seconds—making it easy for people to interact and engage with the network without disrupting the flow of conversation.
In a closed trial of the app, the company Octi gave 50 students at Huntington Beach High School in southern California access to the beta version of the app. “By the end of the week, about 1,200 of 2,000 kids had it,” says Fuisz. “It just spreads.”
Every Octi user has a “digital belt” of content that appears when their face is scanned by the app. The belt can include things like text posts, photos, videos and embedded content such as a Spotify playlist or YouTube video, and is similar to a Facebook Wall or Twitter Timeline.
What is special about Octi’s use of augmented reality, says Fuisz, is that this belt follows the user. By comparison, Snapchat’s use of augmented reality is not persistent, meaning that it only exists for the moment that you’re filming a video. “You’re almost like a QR code of your profile walking around,” he says.
For now, the company is primarily focused on adding more users. But Fuisz has grand ambitions for his creation and would ultimately like to strike partnerships with third-party app developers who can build experiences into the platform.
“What we’re going to do is flood the network with content,” he says. “I'm working lots of partnership angles right now for some cool [intellectual property] to do a game that will be coming over this next year.” So even though the app lacks interesting features or experiences at launch—there’s a very strong chance that will change in the near future.
Image via Octi's Facebook.